Chuck and Betty

The photograph that adorns this website was taken in 1939. It’s Charles Walters and Betty Grable on stage doing their big number “Well Did You Evah!” in Cole Porter’s DuBarry Was a Lady. MGM bought the show outright and contracted several of the players, Chuck included. (Betty lost out on that score, but became one of 20th century Fox’s biggest stars) Walters performed in such films as Girl Crazy and Presenting Lily Mars but soon went on to become the leading dance director/choreographer for the legendary Freed unit. He choreographed Meet Me in St. Louis. He also did a marvelous short called Spreading the Jam — that sometimes plays on Turner Classic Movies. It’s a miniature dance musical that was a considerable influence on Jacques Rivette’s Haut/Bas/Fragile.

In 1947, Walters became a full-fledged director with Good News (my personal favorite among musicals). He went on to do Easter Parade — one of the greatest successes in MGM history. Vincente Minnelli always gets the lion’s share of critical attention re the Metro musical, but it’s arguable that Walters was the greater, subtler talent.

He was able to work with Judy Garland (a life-long friend) far more resourcefully than Minnelli could. Judy so loved the “Couple of Swells” number from Easter Parade that she did it in her concert shows — often with Walters accompanying her. They had the same, very ribald, sense of humor. When she finished shooting the “Friendly Star” number in Summer Stock — which Walters ends with the camera swooping in for a Big Fat Close-up of a trembling Judy, Walters yelled out “Somebody throw me a towel — I’ve just cum!”

Among Walters’ other notable films: The Belle of New York, The Barleys of Broadway, Easy to Love, The Tender Trap, Ask Any Girl, Billy Rose’s Jumbo, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Walk Don’t Run — a remake of The More the Merrier that was both his, and his star Cary Grant’s, last film.

But very special mention should be made of High Society, the musical version of The Philadelphia Story with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, and a score by Cole Porter. Looking for a number suitable for Crosby and Sinatra to sing together, Porter brought “Well Did You Evah” out of the trunk, tweaking the lyrics, and giving it to Walters — who then showed Bing and Frank how to play Chuck and Betty.

“Have you heard that Mimsie Starr

Just got pinched in the Assstor Bar?

Well did you evah?

What a swell party this is!”

2 Comments

  1. SteveAudio June 3, 2006 2:07 am 

    David,

    Pams’ cousin Joy has a longtime life partner named Shelley Ames. Shelley’s dad was Leon Ames, whose name I’m sure is familiar to you, especially in re: some of the film references in this piece.

    I can remember visiting with Leon at a family function in the early ’90s before he died, he was already suffering some dementia, but was still lovely and charming. Living with his wife at a condo in Newport Beach, he was sure that they were “on location,” but was able to tell me story after story about the famous films he had been in.

    Shelley worked in the biz for a while, but preferred life as a civilian, and has worked in counseling for aged folks, and in addiction recovery programs. If you ever want to talk with her about her memories about the late ’40s and ’50s, I’m sure that can be arranged, she’s a sweet person.

    Best,

    Steve

  2. David E June 3, 2006 10:52 am 

    Thanks Steve.

    I especially love Leon Ames’ turn as the lawyer in Preminger’s “Angel Face.”

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